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Gabourey Sidibe Says She Felt Discriminated Against While Shopping at Chanel: ‘I Either Look Like a Thief or a Waste of Time’

Gabourey Sidibe attends the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California.
Gabourey Sidibe attends the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California.Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards

Gabourey Sidibe says she’s felt discriminated against at high-end stores because of how she looks. She opened up about her experiences in a new essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter on Tuesday, May 9. 

The Empire actress, 34, detailed an incident in which she stopped into a Chanel store in Chicago to get a new pair of eyeglasses for herself and some sandals for her costar Taraji P. Henson. “I was looking pretty cute,” she wrote. “My wig was long and wavy, I was wearing new ankle boots and my prescription Balenciaga shades, and I had a vintage Chanel purse on my shoulder, over my winter coat with a fur hood.” 

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When Sidibe asked to see the eyeglasses, the saleswoman pointed her across the street to a discount frames retailer. “I had been at her display for less than a minute, and she was literally directing me to another store,” Sidibe continued. “She had decided after a single look at me that I wasn’t there to spend any money. Even though I was carrying a Chanel bag, she decided I wasn’t a Chanel customer and so, not worth her time and energy.”

The Oscar nominee then asked where she could find the sandals for Henson, and the salesperson begrudgingly showed her the shoe section. “As we passed through, other employees who were of color noticed me,” she wrote. “All of a sudden, the woman who had pointed me out of the store let me know that even though they didn’t have eyeglasses, the shades they carried actually doubled as eyeglass frames, so I should take a look at the shades I’d come to look at in the first place. Just like that, I went from being an inconvenience to a customer.” 

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Sidibe noted that she has had similar encounters before. “No matter how dressed up I get, I’m never going to be able to dress up my skin color to look like what certain people perceive to be an actual customer,” she wrote. “Depending on the store, I either look like a thief or a waste of time.”

The Precious actress ended up purchasing two pairs of glasses and two pairs of sandals. When she paid, she gave the store her email so she would receive a customer service survey. Once home, however, she couldn’t bring herself to fill out the survey because she didn’t want to jeopardize someone’s job. 

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“To be fair, I don’t know why that saleswoman didn’t want to help me. I suspect it’s because I’m black, but it could also be because I’m fat. Maybe my whole life, every time I thought someone was being racist, they were actually mistreating me because I’m fat. That sucks too,” she continued. “But now as I sit staring at what seems like the hundredth customer-service survey I’ve accepted but not completed, it occurs to me: does it matter whether my waist is wide or if my skin is black as long as my money is green?”

Chanel apologized to Sidibe in a statement posted beneath her essay. “Chanel expresses our sincerest regret for the boutique customer service experience that Ms. Sidibe mentioned in this essay. We are sorry that she felt unwelcome and offended,” the statement said. “We took her words very seriously and immediately investigated to understand what happened, knowing that it is absolutely not in line with the high standards that Chanel wishes to provide to our customers.”

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